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Ontario rolls out massive flu shot campaign in bid to keep hospitals from overflowing amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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Ontario rolls out massive flu shot campaign in bid to keep hospitals from overflowing amid the COVID-19 pandemic

At a Sept. 22 press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that a massive flu shot campaign will be one of six pillars of the province’s six-part plan to manage the COVID-19 crisis over the fall. 

Ford says the province is implementing the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history in a bid to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19 by reducing flu-related hospital visits. 

The flu shot campaign is part of the province’s Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19 plan, which includes the following pillars:

  • Maintain strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management;
  • Quickly identify, manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks;
  • Accelerate efforts to reduce health service backlogs;
  • Prepare for surges in COVID-19 cases;
  • Recruit, retain, train and support health care workers, while also continuing to engage families and caregivers; and
  • Implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.

“We’ve been working through the summer to put in place a robust and comprehensive plan to tackle a potential, more challenging second wave of COVID-19,” said Ford. 

“It’s important that we prepare for any scenario in order to protect all of our citizens, especially our seniors and most vulnerable. Our government is doing everything it can to defeat this deadly virus, including delivering an unprecedented flu shot campaign to maintain capacity in our hospitals.”

The province says it has partnered wth the federal and other provincial/territorial governments to invest almost $70 million to purchase 5.1 million flu vaccine doses–700,000 more than the approximated usage last year. 

The investment includes 1.3 million high-dose vaccine doses for Ontario seniors, especially those with pre-existing health conditions. Those high-dose vaccines will be available at participating pharmacies. The province also said it’s prioritizing early distribution of the flu vaccine for people in long-term care homes, hospitals and retirement homes. 

It’s also investing an additional $26.5 million to purchase additional flu vaccine doses if required.

“The Ontario Pharmacists Association is very pleased that pharmacy professionals will have a significant role in the Ontario government’s fall preparedness plan to protect Ontarians this year from flu and COVID-19,” said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, in a statement. 

“The Ontario government’s decision to expand the high-dose flu vaccine program recognizes the high degree of accessibility of frontline pharmacy professionals, especially during the pandemic, as well as pharmacy’s dramatic success story in boosting immunization rates against influenza.”

The flu shot will be available in the coming weeks at doctors’ offices and public health units for anyone over the age of six months, and participating pharmacies for anyone five years of age or older. 

The province says the flu shot is especially important for children four and under, pregnant women and people 65 years and older who are at higher risk of flu-related complications. 

Flu season can start as early as November and it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to reach full effect. Last flu season, there were about 5,719 flu-related hospitalizations in Ontario and 280 flu-related deaths.

More details on the six-part plan will be released over the coming days. 

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